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Budget Day: Tax Relief on Reacharounds? Free ads! Sell that unwanted Rusty Trombone on the Hearing Trumpet

December 9, 2009

A tremendously bad confluence of events has occurred this morning. My meeting was cancelled, I got about nine hours’ sleep, it’s budget day, and I’ve been watching X-Ray Spex videos online, and that’s feeding the Wednesday rambunction.

Atop all this, Bendunne.com has decided to offer its ads FOR FREE until the 18th of December which, incidentally, is also Answer the Phone Like Buddy The Elf Day. More popular and better blogger than I, Twenty Major has some of Bendunnedotcom’s highlights, and as luck would have it, the universe, being generally against me when I’ve had too much sleep – the only time I am more dangerous than when I’ve had not enough sleep, or am hungry or have had too much sugar, which is most of the time – the Bendunnedotcom website is ‘down for maintenance’. Which I am going to assume means “down until we can find some fucking internet person who can find a way to keep people from putting joke ads on the site, considering how difficult it already is to tell the difference between existing ads and joke ads because you can buy a single goose egg and/or some kid’s Wii that he threw at his ma after playing it only once and covering it with Manchester United stickers”.

Ugh. So I’m opening up my site here to your free ads. Go on. All you people who find my blog by googling – you fucking sickos “Are Jedward Virgins?” or “sad story about a rusty trombone or trumpet” and generally make me feel like I’m accidentally hanging around the back alleys of the internet being given more information about who’s giving whom a hand job than I ever even considered wanting to know about. All you people, and all you people’s people. Just go on.

Because today, on Budget Day, I reckon I’m not the only one who’s gonna have to start hawking her personal possessions to pay for The Christmas. So please, friends, feel free to use the Itty Bitty Hearing Trumpet to raise funds to buy that special someone you’ve been waiting for.

BTW, real ads will be altered and mocked.

I’ll start.

FOR SALE:

Not Actual Size. Item is Emailed Image; Actual Mickey Potato Was Left In Pub

ITEM: Picture of solid handcrafted mickey carved out of a potato, with image of same mickey reflected in mirror behind. Used once. Not to scale. Will email image as soon as payment clears. Must buy both, no discounts for reflection only, so stop asking. Not dishwasher safe or weatherised. No time wasters.
Note: Actual mickey was left in pub. Item is digital image.
PRICE: 60,000euro+VAT
CATEGORY: Items for sale>Food>Mickeys

(NOTE: I didn’t take this pic, but I was involved with its creation. Credit goes to this guy)

“A Great Variety of Bizarre Visual Phenomena”

December 3, 2009

People of earth! We’ve received communication from Dublin spiritual healer Joe Coleman, who has himself been notified that Herself has been talking about a short break in the Wesht this coming Saturday. Before you split your guts open jostling each other to get a good view of the heavens above, listen up.

Look directly at me. No. No. Not like that. Down a little. Ok, that’s better. The sun. It is for external use only.
But sure, it was only dancin’ in the sky the last time.
That is understood. But the word from the authorities is you’ll burn your poor eyes out of your noggin and you won’t be able to see Baby Jesus at The Christmas.
Ye shoulda seen it. A ring. It had a ring.
Did yer mam not tell you to mind yer eyes? You only get the ones you’re born with.
They’re not like teeth, she said, so she did. Not a bit like teeth.

And didn’t you make a little viewing box for the solar eclipse because of the risk of permanent damage to your vision?
Decorated it with noughts and crosses, aye.
So I have an idea to help you remember. A method suggested by the HSE to minimise the cost of treating the population for solar retinopathy and acute or prolonged stupidity.
Yer not the boss of me. Anyway, sure, there’s loads of atmospheres between Knock and the sun. There’s hardly any Sun left by the time it gets here.
That’s not true.
In any case, I’m not buyin’ any gays married to common housecats. There’ll be ructions and unrest and terrible anxiety. Man moves in next door with a cat for a wife. What then? They’ll only go and adopt a same-sex Hoover, then give it a Christian name like Alan.
Have you much of an opinion on dogs?
Oh, is it dogs yer on about?
It’s a very special sort of dog. Hardly any trouble.
Then what’s all this about celestial apparitions? Sure, I’ve a dog already. Wouldn’t want any of yer fancy city dogs, drinking diet champagne and eating whale eggs out of a handbag.
But you don’t have one of these dogs. You see, given the acute danger posed by the giant ball in the sky –
You mean that ting?
Yes, now look back at me. You’ll go blind.
Sure, a man’d go blind lookin’ at ye, ye fine ting. Well, wouldn’t be lookin’, if ye know –
Look, I’ve got something here I think you might like. It’s called a thinking-brain dog. If you find yourself distracted, forgetting yourself, or otherwise confused, if your eyes begin to turn heavenwards, and suddenly the spaghetti begins to boil inside your brain pan, this dog will alert you before anything more than temporary retinal damage has been done. This dog warns you to get a hold of yourself by urinating on your trouser cuff. The thinking-brain dog is trained to recognise the subtle microexpressions that indicate a significant drop in cognitive function –
I’ve enough difficulty with me trousers.
The trousers will be the least of your worries. Even the Archbishop has implored you not to look at the sun.
You’re givin’ me a pain in the head. Are you from the diocese?
No, that’s from looking directly at the sun. You’ve shot it more than a few rogue glances since we started talking.
Since you started talking, you mean. I was just minding me own business.
True, but I’m just telling you what I read in the paper. Information from a doctor of medicine. A surgeon from the University.
C’mere to me. This thinking-brain dog. Would it have its dinner in the middle of the day?
This dog will do anything you train it to do, although he has been so thoroughly instructed in the art of thinking-brain techniques for deterring human behaviour, that you would not be able to detrain him from his trouser-urination function. Everything else, including the timing of meals, yes, that would be fine, I think. He’s a highly intelligent cross-breed. Not pedigreed, you understand. Very rugged. Thinks for you, but can still pull a sled in a pinch.
Go on, then. I’ll train it to watch out for Herself when I’m in Mallorca.

“They’re weak, they’re fat, they can’t run very fast, and they can’t fly.”*

December 2, 2009

So it can be said of turkeys as of humans.

But there’s something wrong with the food chain, and with the Darwinian theory of the survival of the fittest when you take into account that, contrary to popular belief, turkeys do not drown in the rain. No, animals are generally rather used to climatic phenomena. Only humans could do something so amazing as damage our eyes by staring at the sun for so long that it looks like a dancing lady because you are making yourself half-blind. Look, if you want to see a dancing lady, I can give you the names of some places. Some of them even do housecalls. And I know it’s a rare thing for us to see that blazing yellow ball in the sky, but unlike the legends of The Boy Whose Face Really Stayed That Way, or the fella whose Excitement At Seeing a Lady Dance Made Him Go Blind, the one about staring at the sun is actually true. If you want to go on a pilgrimage, who am I to judge? But for pete’s sake, be a little less stupid. In fact, be less stupid than the pilgrims of the past, who were significantly less idiotic and did things that, while certainly their own oldey-timey version of reiki or aromatherapy, at least were not actually dangerous (and, much like reiki and aromatherapy, will really only harm your wallet and may bring a pleasing placebo effect, if you’re lucky).

But the irony is that past pilgrims often travelled to allegedly holy places in the landscape in order to cure their ouchy eyes, not wreck them.

Read more…

Does My Country Look Fat In This? More Cartograms

December 2, 2009

If you played with that cartogram site I posted earlier but don’t like things that are that awesome, then here is this way more detailed, but only ever-so-slightly-less-awesome site called Worldmapper, a collaborative human cartography project mainly based in the University of Sheffield. If you haven’t seen a cartogram, it’s a little bit like reading the World Atlas after about sixteen whiskeys. As is fitting and to be expected, in many of the areas where one would not wish one’s own country to look portly, the United States looks positively obese.

Check out this map of global fuel increase between 1980 and 2001.

Global Fuel Increase 1980-2001. Source: http://www.worldmapper.org

There’s something about a cartogram’s ability to take information that might be wholly unsurprising and make it register in a much more profound way. For example, these maps relating to primary education around the world (although, again this data is a couple of years old, but still relatively current).

First, there’s the map showing global primary educational enrollment.

Primary Education. In 2002, 5 out of 6 children were enrolled in primary education (though this doesn't mean they necessarily attended). Source: Worldmapper.org

And now, a map showing girls not at primary school.
Girls not at primary school. Source: Worldmapper.org

So now you wanna tell me that women are equal?

Oh, and did I say that that site was slightly less awesome? I lied. You can make a printable PDF of every single one of the maps, and if you click on the index, that’s basically all of your day and all of your ink and all of your life, gone. Wave it goodbye because it’s been blown out of your hands like a tourist’s map in a Ha’penny Bridge gust. Ha!

Cartography Roundup: Warrugs, Cartograms, Oddball Maps

December 1, 2009

Everyone knows that the best-ever cartographic representation of a land mass was done by the Irish School of Motoring, whose “Bear driving a car” is the nation’s greatest achievement since Mollycule Theory came out of Flann O’Brien’s pickled brain-pan.

Hosanna in the Hiace

But since I had a shitty day, I figured I should share with you what I do when I have a shitty day. Sometimes it’s looking at pictures of kittens (even though I’m allergic). Sometimes it’s mythical beasts. But today, like many days, it was maps. Delicious, sexy, ridiculous maps. And rugs.

This blog of Strange Maps will probably ruin your day. And I’m kinda nervous about you even clicking that link, for fear you will never, ever come back to my blog again. Nor will I. But, to save you some time after you check out the most recent post, on ‘accidental cartography’, try this post about an ‘undiscovered island’ called Buss which, after being included on a sixteenth-century map, was sought out (and only rarely spotted, and only by people who weren’t looking for it) frequently, and even included on some charts of the North Atlantic until the 19th century.

It’s interesting to note that while the area in the North Atlantic between Iceland and the Canadian coast would have been fairly well-travelled, so many mythical islands were marked in that area for so long. Perhaps it’s because the route was well-travelled. Maybe the curvature of the horizon played tricks on the eye. Hy Brasil is my favourite. Shown on many maps of Ireland and the north Atlantic (in fact, more common on world maps because they showed more outlying islands than maps of Ireland on its own), sightings of it were reported for centuries, the latest known report (or the latest to admit it publicly) was in 1872, by respected Irish antiquarian TJ Westropp, who is about fifty blog posts worth of interesting in his own right.

Early maps often show islands that didn’t exist because early maps were compiled using a mixture of actual survey and hearsay. So to compilers of, say, this 1597 map showing the North Atlantic, Hy Brasil and St Brendan’s Isle are no more and no less real than, say, the Outer Hebrides. Of course, the mapmakers themselves would not find reports of magical or mystical places all that outlandish, nor would their patrons. Elizabeth I’s cosmologist John Dee was also into crystal balls, and Sir Walter Raleigh’s last voyage abroad was to Guiana, where he promised James I that he could definitely find El Dorado. The unknown was the unknown, and it’s not hard to get a guy who believes in a solid gold city to believe in a magical island.

Magini's 1597 Map. If you look at the bottom left, you'll see Hy Brasil and St Brendan's Island off the southwest coast of Ireland
Not even all modern mapmaking involves resurveying territory anew (although that’s what makes the Google Streetview Car so ridiculously awesome). The Ordnance Survey maps that you buy in the shop were compiled using the data off a variety of editions of OS maps, which means that in the case of archaeological information, not all of the maps are made from data derived from new fieldwork.

Oh, and speaking of maps involving Ireland, and to add a really ridiculous detail to this accidental cartography game, there’s a little bit of footpath crack on the road leading from the village to our house that looks exactly the way Baptista Boazio drew Lough Neagh in his 1599 map.

Boazio's Ireland, 1599. Source: http://extra.shu.ac.uk/emls/04-2/kleipart.htm

There, I just told you a secret. I’ve never told anybody that before. And now you know that when I’m looking at the ground, I’m looking for money or shapes that look like geographical entities. Mostly money, though.

So back to my trawl of this awesome other-person’s blog. The actual travel distances on this map of ‘space-time convergence’ might no longer be relevant, but the idea behind it is. I can get to Boston in the same amount of time it takes to get to West Cork. Possibly even faster. It takes longer to get the 19A bus from Finglas to the city centre during rush hour than it does to fly to Glasgow and get a bus to the city centre. And it’s even funnier if you try smaller cities. Have you ever tried to take the train from Cork to Sligo? You might as well fly to Chicago, and besides, it’s probably cheaper.

And here’s a map of Ireland, laid out as if there were only 100 people. Once you’ve seen that, boil your brains on this ‘pene’-enclave’ between Cavan and Monaghan that the blog owner found on Google maps. The political geography of Ireland at the level of the townland is a bonanza of fractals.

There are maps for fun, like this West Virginia Hot Dog Mapping Project, and more accidental maps, which would have been the coolest thing I’d ever seen if I hadn’t spotted this post on Afghan War Rugs, which then made me google around and found this site dedicated to carpets and mats that depict Afghanistan’s legacy of war.

They’re jarring visually, and yet not so jarring if you think about it. A culture’s art reflects the material and psychological worlds its people inhabit, and for Afghanistan, it would be strange if the legacy of the last three decades of war did not appear in material objects. Some of the rugs are figurative displays of people and weapons, but others show military equipment in a more stylised fashion. In the YouTube video on that War Rugs site, someone asks if the rugs are ‘pro’ or ‘anti’ war, which is kind of a stupid question isn’t it? When it’s going on all around you, perhaps you do just want the war to stop, but for now, the war just is. I wonder if being pro- or anti-war in the abstract sense is a luxury we really only have in countries where we’re relatively safe.

According to this NPR report that you should listen to, some of the flags have provoked controversy when they went on display in New York. I can certainly understand why an image of planes flying into the Twin Towers would upset people, but considering many of the rugs also show images of American tanks and movements within Afghanistan, Afghani national heroes, and so many other military scenes, it’s perhaps better to see them as artisanal reportage than Carpet Op-Eds. They seem to tell stories without necessarily making a statement of approval or disapproval. Or possibly. Whatever they say, it’s a pretty fascinating way to say it.

Apart from those sites, and this article from Forbes, this is about all I could find about the war rugs, so if you know anything about them, I’d love to learn more.

And when you’re done with that, you might want to play a little. So have a go at messing around with these cartograms. As much as a lot of us love looking at naked stats, the graphical representation of data is so much more sexy. It’s just that little bit of clothing that makes it such a tease. Click on one of the world maps, and have a go. There’s just about any type of global data you could want, and although some of it is a few years old, for a map dork, this kind of thing is still basically like opening all of the presents under the Christmas tree. You can click on the map and find data for individual countries, too.

Dear Ireland: I’m coming back for what’s mine. Signed, Water

November 30, 2009

There are so many ways to disown financial responsibility, but the government, councils, the planners – they can’t disown the effects of these floods. No, they don’t control the weather, but any idiot who has seen a contour map – or a 19th-century Ordnance Survey map, where places that flood are generally marked floods – would notice the word floods and probably know what that means. Any idiot could have seen it. Any idiot, true. But watching these people on The Frontline, it’s clear that it’s gobshites who are blind to it.

Dublin itself is basically one big flood plain. I remember finding these maps at the National Maritime Museum and, being a Ringsender by association, I was obviously curious, but then found it very difficult to get my bearings on these old maps and charts. This is mainly because where I currently live was once part of the sea. And one day the sea will come back. So the more we build on flood plains, the closer we bring that day. In fact, Ringsend was pretty much so constantly a muckscape that there was such a thing as a Ringsend Car, that helped the intrepid and sufficiently arse-padded to cross the slime that was the area around the Dodder. We’ve culverted the Steyn (which you can still see a bit of at George’s Quay) and the Poddle (that’s the one in Dublin Castle, yah?).

This is possibly the earliest chart of Dublin Bay (note the citadel that seems like it should practically abut Merrion Square), and this is another interesting chart of the city.

Areas of Cork City Centre have buildings whose steps once led down into the water, later replaced with dry land that has again been replaced with river. And not just because it’s a marsh to begin with (a lot of major cities are low-lying, especially if they began as port cities, and thus have a lot of reclaimed areas), but because when you build and expand on a marsh you can’t pretend it’s a mountain. And if a field is called “the bog”, leave it alone. If it’s called “Muckpuddle”, it’s not going to make a good housing estate. And if you can’t get your hands on an Ordnance Survey map (you can find them in local studies libraries), if an estate is called “Waterways” or “Wetspot”, don’t buy there. When you build on flood plains, it’s not only flood plains that flood. Duh.

Spending money on drainage and flood protection, as was pointed out by a member of the audience, was not previously dependent on available government resources. Some shit you just do. Because sure, we don’t have the money to bail out the banks, wouldn’t you rather bail out your neighbour’s house? I know I would. The Shannon was dredged in the 1930s, there were huge agricultural drainage projects in the 19th century, but apparently this is all a new issue that we simply can’t afford. Why does everything in this country have to get to crisis point before anyone listens?

At what point did this shit about building on flood plains become ‘forgotten knowledge’?

Anyway, this discussion is bullshit. The members of the audience know a hell of a lot more than the panel and actually seem to care about what’s happening, and know what needs to be done. I just figured this was easier than the 100 tweets this would take.

Edit: in order to get your bearings a little bit on that 1673 map, Lazy Hill is what is now Townsend Street. But again, it’s actually really difficult to figure out what you’re looking at because you can’t use landmarks, since most of them are now gone, and the physical geography has been changed so much.

(Also, I cannot be held accountable for the loss of entire working weeks looking at those beautiful hi-res maps that the NMM put online well before anyone else did it.)

“Picture it: Sicily, Nineteen-Dickety-Two”

November 27, 2009

Today, November 27th is the Story Corps National Day of Listening. Story Corps is one of the best things on earth, and if I had my way, I’d run my own Story Corps van in Ireland, and I’d (get someone more fearless than I to) drive around the country and be the rag and bone van for narrative. But I’m not, and there’s no Thanksgiving here, except for those Yanks among us who fight all-comers for the precious supply of Libby’s canned pumpkin, but that’s no reason not to take a bit of time to listen, and to record someone you know and/or love.

So what if it’s not today? Make up your mind to do it between now and Christmas. You’ll be surprised, not just by what you learn, but by what your listening might inspire the speaker to remember. Everyone has a story to tell, and some of the best stories I’ve ever heard came after persistent invitations (by myself or others) to tell them.

While the US marks the National Day of Listening, Ireland is going through its own nationwide conversation, about the culture of open secrets that has destroyed so many lives and left a pernicious, dangerous legacy that continues to destroy many more. I hope that the listening that has begun this year with the two reports on clerical sex abuse lead to something much better. The victims deserve it. We all deserve a world that’s a lot less shitty.

The main event yesterday was the release of the Murphy Report into clerical sex abuse in the Dublin diocese. We’ve learned about how the church “lied without lying” using a really rather juvenile and/or fascistic justification they called “mental reservation”. There’s been plenty of commentary written about the report already, including this post by Twenty Major, which is worth a read.

We need to tackle abuses of power in all their forms, and that this is not just about priests. We can’t just corral them and think we’ve solved the problem because we haven’t. That’s what inspired me to put up this post, but isn’t what it’s about.

Over the past year, I’ve collected a series of recordings of my dad. Some of them are interviews, others are just me following him around Orvieto, where he is currently working to set up an American Episcopal parish. In the 1950s and 1960s, he was a Catholic priest. He made up his mind early to go the seminarian route, and being a high achiever, by his mid-20s, he had his PhD in the Philosophy of Science, and was in the North American Pontifical College in Rome. He spent seven years there, and then moved back to the US in 1961, eventually ending up with a post at Catholic University in Washington, DC. He left in the late 60s (I think it was 1968, but it might have been ’69) because he felt he wasn’t being honest with himself, that the church was too closed-minded, and would only hinder the good he wanted to do in the world.

Skipping over the kind-of-sordid history of my family, and (thanks to some serious ‘mental reservation’) the messy, very broken present that makes it difficult for me to finish my intended documentary, he became an Episcopal priest about 20 years ago, after a long career working for the US Federal Government. He retired from his parish in Rhode Island last year, and has been sent to run a small mission church about an hour outside of Rome, in the hill town of Orvieto.

I’ve always been fascinated by his time as a Catholic priest, partly because it led him to Rome (and when I was little, living abroad for any length of time automatically made you fascinating), and also because of the utterly ridiculous rules, especially pre-Vatican II. Not to mention the otherworldly (and oddly, to me, twistedly glamorous, if you can call it that) existence he seemed to lead. It had more rules than even the most delightfully complicated child’s game, and everyone and everything was wildly accessorised.

The Catholics still have the best kitsch and the most mind-blowing rule book. And it turns out there’s a rule in that book that allows for clergy to be exempt from pretty much every single rule in it, that allows them to rape and abuse and destroy lives by pretending it never happened, or by blaming the media. Just use ‘mental reservation’. Cross your fingers behind your back. Play the “I’m not touching you-hoo” game. Say what you want to be heard saying, and then silently finish the sentence to yourself. It’s not a lie, so long as you find a loophole. I remembered some stuff that my dad said when we were talking, things I thought were a great little insight into what’s behind what went on.

So today I clipped out a few unedited pieces of the interviews (so they are messy!). One is him talking about what he thinks about the level of abuse by Catholic clergy. It starts with him talking about a television show they weren’t allowed to watch in the Seminary. In the Seminary! You see, because these adult men were being treated like babies. No TV, and then someone went and censored their records, scratching out any references to being near women. They couldn’t even listen to the soundtrack to South Pacific properly. When he got to Rome, of course, they were allowed a bit more freedom, and my dad even made his theatrical debut as Angelina in the Pontifical College’s production of Trial By Jury. And yes, I have pictures, and yes I will scan them.

The other is basically us playing my favourite game, “stump a theologian”, where I come up with the most ridiculous questions I can, in order to find something for which Catholic morality has not got a concrete answer. I’ve come close to stumping the theologian, but I’m still some way off; Catholic theology wins every time. If you have any sympathies with the Catholic establishment, or if you find the phrase “can you take the eucharist anally?” upsetting or distasteful, then probably you’re best off with your copy of Alive! and your paralytic panic that same-sex marriage means that it’s only a matter of time before men start marrying common housecats.

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